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'India is Pak's fundamental concern'

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October 10, 2006
In the second part of her interview, Sarah Chayes, author of The Punishment of Virtue: Inside Afghanistan After the Taliban, tells Rediff India Abroad Managing Editor Aziz Haniffa that she believes that Al Qaeda [Images] leader Osama Bin laden is not in Pakistan, but the top Taliban leadership is in Quetta.

Continuing our week-long series on the fifth anniversary of the US invasion of Afghanistan.

Part I of the interview: 'Osama is not in Pakistan'

Is there any chance that perhaps Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri and others could be in Quetta?

Not Osama. I think Pakistan has been using Al Qaeda figures as a way of buying off America. If you think about it regionally, they have no reason to like Al Qaeda because the Taliban allowed them to run Afghanistan to get this strategic weight vis-a-vis India. They (Pakistan) basically ran Afghanistan though the Taliban. Not perfectly, but more or less. So that gave them the backyard that they wanted.

Osama bin Laden comes in 1996, and the Pakistani government was probably delighted to get some more money and some more seasoned fighters in Afghanistan. But then Osama bin Laden does 9/11, and the US comes and kicks the Taliban out of Afghanistan. In a way, it was Al Qaeda that ruined Pakistan's nice chess game. So why would they have any positive feelings about Al Qaeda? That is why he (Musharraf) has been turning Al Qaeda people once every two or three months.

What benefit would there be for them to keep Osama? That is the one thing that would make the United States really angry at them and end whatever benefit they are getting out of this alliance. So in my personal view -- I don't have any hard evidence about this -- I don't think Osama is in Pakistan. I believe he went the other way. On the other hand, all the top Taliban people are in Quetta. I know they are.

When you mean Osama went the other way, where do you think he went?

I believe he went out through Iran and is probably in Saudi Arabia or Sudan or somewhere like that. He left moving westwards, not eastwards.

The argument you are making is that if Osama were in Pakistan, it would certainly be to Musharraf's advantage to apprehend him and offer him on a platter to the US because that would really cement the US-Pakistan alliance and make Bush eternally grateful to him?

Exactly. But, the converse is also true. If the United States ever found out that he has been sitting around in Pakistan that would be the one thing that would probably likely have the US really do something punitive to Pakistan.

President Musharraf, who met with President Bush recently, has asserted that both the mujahideen and the Taliban -- at least initially -- came about because of a joint US-Pakistan effort to counter the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and to bring stability to the country.

That's true (that initially the US also supported the Taliban), but first of all, it is false to say that the Taliban were concocted to counter the Soviets. That is historically inaccurate. The person that Pakistan wanted to take over Afghanistan after the Soviet withdrawal was Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and he definitely got the lion's share of the financial support during the Soviet occupation.

So what Pakistan wanted was for him to take over Afghanistan, but guess what, Afghanistan didn't want an extremist, ideological, Islamic regime and he was not able to take over. So it wasn't until 1994 that they invented the Taliban and the Soviets were gone by then.

It is really disingenuous and ahistorical to say that and the fact that that he (Musharraf) is saying it means he has something to hide. It is accurate to say that both Pakistan and the United States were seduced by extremist ideology as a counter-force to the Soviet community ideology. But after the Soviet Union didn't exist anymore, that's when Pakistan invented the Taliban. I mean, I am being schematic but that's when they got involved in creating that force.

This is the same kind of religious extremism in Kashmir they were exploiting during the Kargil crisis. If you misinterpret history that way, then it's difficult to trust the substance of what you are saying.

So it is not just to keep its finger on Afghanistan through the Taliban, but as you say in your book in quite an explosive charge, it is for some kind of strategic advantage vis-a-vis a growing India and to undermine New Delhi, which is fast becoming an influential regional power and forging this strategic partnership with Washington?

I spent some time in Pakistan, but not enough to be able to answer that in a very educated way. But why would they be interested in Afghanistan if it didn't have to do with India? I mean, fundamentally, iit seems to me from what I've read -- and you guys know more than I do --like India has always been their fundamental concern and they are only interested in Afghanistan insofar as it can give them more strategic weight vis-a-vis India.

Next: 'India should just shut up'

In this series so far:
'Osama is not in Pakistan'
Will US fury work in Afghanistan?
Afghanistan: 5 years later, fear of failure

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